Anti-Jewish legislation in prewar Nazi Germany
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Antisemitism and the persecution of Jews represented a central tenet of Nazi ideology. In their 25-point Party Program, published in 1920, Nazi party members publicly declared their intention to segregate Jews from "Aryan" society and to abrogate Jews' political, legal, and civil rights. Nazi leaders began to carry out their pledge to persecute German Jews soon after their assumption of power. The first major law to curtail the rights of Jewish German citizens was the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" of April 7, 1933, which forced all "non-Aryans" to retire from the legal profession and civil service.
The new Civil Service Law was the German authorities' first formulation of the so-called Aryan Paragraph, a kind of regulation used to exclude Jews (and often by extension other "non-Aryans") from organizations, professions, and other aspects of public life. In April 1933, German law restricted the number of Jewish students at German schools and universities. In the same month, further legislation sharply curtailed "Jewish activity" in the medical and legal professions. Subsequent laws and decrees restricted reimbursement of Jewish doctors from public (state) health insurance funds.
At their annual party rally held in Nuremberg in September 1935, the Nazi leaders announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. These "Nuremberg Laws" excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from having sexual relations or marriages with Aryans ("German or related blood"), violation of this law was punishable as "racial defilement". Ancillary ordinances to these laws deprived them of most political rights. Jews were disenfranchised and could not hold public office.
The Nuremberg Laws did not identify a "Jew" as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, the first amendment to the Nuremberg Laws defined anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual recognized himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practised Judaism or who had not done so for years found themselves caught in the grip of Nazi terror. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity could be defined as Jews.
In the weeks before and during the 1936 Winter and Summer Olympic Games held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berlin, respectively, the Nazi regime actually toned down much of its public anti-Jewish rhetoric and activities. The regime even removed some of the signs saying "Jews Unwelcome" from public places. Hitler did not want international criticism of his government to result in the transfer of the Games to another country. Such a loss would have been a serious blow to German prestige. Likewise, Nazi leaders did not want to discourage international tourism and the revenue that it would bring during the Olympics year.
In 1937 and 1938, German authorities again stepped up legislative persecution of German Jews. The government set out to impoverish Jews and remove them from the German economy by requiring them to register their property. Even before the Olympics, the Nazi government had initiated the practice of "Aryanizing" Jewish businesses. "Aryanization" meant the dismissal of Jewish workers and managers of a company and/or the takeover of Jewish-owned businesses by non-Jewish Germans who bought them at bargain prices fixed by government or Nazi party officials. In 1937 and 1938, the government forbade Jewish doctors to treat non-Jews, and revoked the licenses of Jewish lawyers to practice law.
Following the Kristallnacht (commonly known as "Night of Broken Glass") pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, Nazi leaders stepped up "Aryanization" efforts and enforced measures that succeeded increasingly in physically isolating and segregating Jews from their fellow Germans. Jews were barred from all public schools and universities, as well as from cinemas, theatres, and sports facilities. In many cities, Jews were forbidden to enter designated "Aryan" zones. German decrees and ordinances expanded the ban on Jews in professional life. By September 1938, for instance, Jewish physicians were effectively banned from treating "Aryan" patients.
On 17 August 1938, German authorities decreed that by January 1, 1939, Jewish men and women bearing first names of "non-Jewish" origin had to add "Israel" and "Sara," respectively, to their given names (Namensänderungsverordnung). For their children, only a restricted number of "Jewish" first names were allowed; most of these names were highly unusual, and many were likely to attract derision, e.g. Geilchen (Slut). Every Jew was obliged to carry identity cards that indicated their Jewish heritage, and, in the autumn of 1938, all Jewish passports were stamped with an identifying letter "J". As the Nazi leaders quickened their preparations for the war of conquest that they intended to unleash on Europe, antisemitic legislation in Germany and Austria paved the way for more radical persecution of Jews.
- This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.